Wednesday, May 30, 2007


Two things I don't do very often:

1. Post frequently.

2. Post blogs that link you to the things that I have been looking at, in close proximity to when I actually look at them.

Number 1 I am trying to do something about, sort of. Well, I've created a rule for myself such that I post *regularly*, rather than frequently. I think I'm doing OK, but it does make my posts a little more conversational, and a little less narrative / essayist. I prefer the latter, but the former will suffice. Until I can merge the two.

Number 2 I am about to change now. I don't think I will continue with this, however.

For the people who read my blog and are interested in my law side:

Austlii is in funding trouble. I could not have survived law school without Austlii. I especially loved the transcripts of High Court cases, almost contemporaneously with when the case was being argued. I followed the case of McBain (about a single woman's right to IVF, kind of; actually more about constitutional law issues - woo hoo!) like it was a serialised television progamme. There sure were some cliff-hanger moments ...

Thank you to Legal Eagle for drawing that to my attention.

If you wish to assist Austlii to keep its services free, you can contribute here. I certainly will be, as I am of the view that, now I am earning, I can give back. I am sure there are doppelgangers of my young law nerd self lurking at the library computer terminals avidly following the advocacy, banter and witticisms of Australia's best lawyers. Oh, and you may use Austlii for educational purposes too but, like, whatever.

For those of you who read me for my Viet side:

VietK - whom as far as I can tell is neither a Queenslander nor an Australian and therefore has shamed me somewhat in being more abreast of what's going on in my hometown than me - has blogged about one of the stories at an exhibition at the Qld State Libary, featured in the local rag.

For those in Queensland, please go see this exhibition and then report to me. I am so annoyed that I am not in Australia right at this very moment!

I hope there are other reasons to read me than my law-ness and Viet-ness but today I feel compartmentalised.


Blogger has been doing something funny. It kept chewing bits and pieces of this post - so some of you may have a random garble. I disclaim all responsibility.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Google is taking over my life

I have google analytics and I like to look at it every now and then. Sometimes I forget it's there but recently I received an email telling me they made it all fancy-schmancy. And it's great! It's much more understandable for non-technological me, and right on the front page it has what I am really interested in: the keywords people have been using to find my site.

For a long time now, this post has been the biggest hit. This makes me sad, because it means whoever is reading, or contemplating reading, that wonderful book cannot find a more prolific writer's review of it. I google it to check, and there it is, me at the top. (yes yes vicious cycle, I know. But honestly, I don't do that a lot. About every 6 months or so).

The one that is making the most hits of late are split into two: Ghosts and banh canh - and like a tensely run race, those keywords keep leap-frogging each other.

I love my banh canh story. I hope the people googling recipes for banh canh stay to read my story. I aim for more posts like that one, and fewer babbly ones like this one.

My reviews are not particularly objective - I like to put myself into my reviews. I would expect that if people wanted something useful in a review, or some literary criticism, they know where else to do searches, rather than using google or other web search engines. I am trained in literary criticism, but I prefer to provide my emotive responses in this blog. I also enjoy reading emotive reviews. I'm not such a sucker that I don't know the difference between a critical review, and an emotional review - or indeed the parts of a review that are critical and those parts that are emotive. Ideologically, I am a perspectivist (as well as the other things I have declared in the past) - so pointing out my position and perspective is vital to how I present most of my ideas.

I am really pleased that no ew-y people have come by this site by typing in unsavoury things. I'm not going to type any here because then that gives them the keywords - but those of you sensitised to the exoticisation of Asian women will know what I am on about.

For a small period of time, someone had found my site by typing in keywords that suggested to me they were not looking for the types of things I write. Nevertheless, they had a fine old look around my site, but did not seem to revisit. I trust they found something worthwhile ...

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Warning - Illustrations!

Just in case any of you have me on RSS: You may be bombarded with posts - I am transporting posts from my photo-blog to this one (and back-dating them), with the intention of binning the photo-blog.

All will calm down, eventually.

In case you aren't on my RSS and want to have a look at the old posts, you will find most success by using the 'Illustrated' tag, just over there, to your left.


Paradise Now

I finally watched this film, over the weekend.

The highest praise I can give to a movie is that it is well made. I remember one of the best ever comments on an essay I wrote was: "well written." That was all, and I was beaming. Since then, whenever I read a book, or see a movie, that I thought was particularly good, I think: "well written / made". Not really the most useful review, however. (Not that this post is a review, except in so far as it says: It's good. I reckon you should watch it, if you have not already.)

This film is about two young men, who are given a suicide bombing mission. The mission does not go to plan. As a result, the audience is presented with an insight into why each of the young men (but one in particular) has decided to accept the mission. It is a tense movie, exploring the issue from a number of angles. The film is set within the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; the young men are Palestinian.

I like the myriad ways one can read the title. Paradise Now: could be a statement that where we are at the moment is paradise, or an impatient demand for change, or ironically drawing attention to the poverty and despair of one's current situation. These meanings come to play in the film; it is what makes the film so very interesting.

The complex reasons for why one of the young men, Said, chooses to partake in the mission are laid out carefully, and subtly. There is talk - Said persuades the mission leader to take him back - but there is also demonstration - Said asks his mother questions about his father. The reasons are so much more than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There were some very powerful images: Said, with bomb strapped all around his chest, staring into a bus and deciding whether or not to get on; Said leaning against his mother's window, watching her prepare food; Said's friend (I've forgotten his name already!) torn between what he believes, and being a good friend.

The film reminded me of the reasons why people choose to do extreme things for a cause, whether removing oppression is possible without violent means, and of my own family's attitude towards war.

One of the main reasons that Said chooses to participate in the suicide attack is because of his father. Although he has reasons connected with the overarching conflict, his greater concern is his family's dignity. Said's friend's decision is much less complicated, and much more passionately intertwined with the conflict: he is oppressed and he hates his oppressors (that is simplifying it somewhat - after all, there are good reasons for why he hates his oppressors). There is also a young woman - she is the first image of the film that we see - who is the daughter of a martyr and who passionately believes in non-violent means of change. She makes an argument that you may be familiar with: the value of showing to the world the criminality of Israel's treatment of the Palestinians and the poignancy of being seen as victims, rather than aggressors.

I do not know suficient about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to brave an opinion. But I do understand that there may be reasons worth dying for, even if I do not think I would ever believe in anything enought to die for it.

In university, I demonstrated. When I asked a young woman to join me (in a peaceful Reclaim the Night march), she refused and proffered the following reasons: her parents had emigrated from an Eastern European country to Australia for fear of persecution for their political activity. In Australia, her parents had been persecuted for their past political activity in the Eastern European country. She would not participate in public political demonstrations.

I recall being surprised by this, and (because I am egocentric) relating it to myself: my parents emigrated from Viet Nam because they did not think they could make a life under the incoming communist party. They were not engaged in the political dimensions of the war around them; I always understood their reasons to be very simple. For the entirety of my father's life in Viet Nam, there was violent conflict - Viet independence from the French, WWII, the American-Viet Nam War, the Viet-Sino War, the Viet-Cambodian War. My father was a nationalist - but he was also very principled and he thought everyone was corrupt. He was quite disengaged from the political aspects of the wars: it did not matter what they were about, they always inhibited his making a life for himself and his family. All my parents wanted was a good and peaceful life in which they and their children could prosper, one they did not think they could have in Viet Nam. It was only when the American-Viet Nam war occurred, and when the Viet Cong won political power that my family felt it was unbearable to continue trying to make a life in Viet Nam.

It is more complicated than I am currently explaining, and probably more complicated than I - or even any of my family members who made the decisions - understand. But the reason my family left Viet Nam was not because they held a political view that communism was wrong.

I believed that my family was pacifist. This was borne out when my maternal grandmother, normally mild-tempered and sweet, threw a riotous tantrum and threatened to cease speaking with her second-youngest son when he indicated that he wanted to join the Australian Defence Forces.

It surprised me then to learn from my father's reminiscensces that he had wanted to join the South Viet Nam army, before he was married to my mother. Ba told me he thought it was a way to get away from the hard work of farming and fishing. Because Ba is a dutiful son, he asked his mother and father for permission. From what my father has told me about my paternal grandmother (Ah Ma) and from what I know of literary tropes, Ah Ma was a stereotypical dowager empress type: strong-willed and manipulative. Although Ba was not one of Ah Ma's favourites, she appreciated his hard-work and general aptitude at most of the things he tried his hand at. Ah Ma found a family with a marriageable young woman (my mother!) and married my father off to her. (I will tell that story in better detail another day.) Now, my father could no longer join the army as he had a wife, and would very soon have children, to support.

During the American -Viet Nam war, my father's primary concern was how to keep his growing family fed. He did what he needed to do: during the day, if he was found, he assisted the South Vietnamese army; at night, the Viet Cong. He tells me of occassions where he would build a bridge during the day, and dismantle the same bridge at night. Mostly he spent his time evading either army and working with whomever would take him on.

I have always known that my family are not strongly politically motivated. The paramount value in my family is the continuation and prosperity of the family. When I watch movies like Paradise Now, I am moved to wonder what would motivate me to take extreme action, or even actions that are politically dangerous in a more oppressive political climate than the one in which I grew up (Australia). I am much more politically and ideological interested than my siblings, but I think I would behave more like my father (preserve at all costs) than like Said in Paradise Now.

I have participated in protests and demonstrations: anti-war ones, feminist ones and a few feminist anti-war ones. I recall one particular march from my early university days, protesting the introduction of voluntary student unionism. I did not know anyone else on the march, and I looked different: I wore all black (I almost always wore black, back then. Not goth black, just kind of boring-please-don't-look-at-me black). I befriended the people nearby me: a young woman in flowy skirt and wild red hair, and a young man in brightly coloured clothes. The march was mostly peaceful but I somehow found myself in a group that was attempting to storm the administration block. When I realised what was occurring, I tried to leave. As the crowd surged forwards, I was edging out and away. People shouted at me, and I shouted back - such articulate things as: No! Stop! Stop it! Let me go! I'm not part of this! The brightly coloured man called me a coward. This hurt, but I kept trying to leave. I did finally extract myself and I ran away from the demonstration and into the safety of the library where I stayed in a quiet corner with my favourite journals until I felt I could emerge. The students 'occupied' the admin block for two days, and I think a lot of them found it very exciting. I wondered then how many actually believed taking the admin block would aid their cause, and how many were there because of the momentum and peer pressure.

I am wiser these days when I choose my demonstrations. If they might turn violent, I do not attend. I believe there are other means for me to effect change, and have my voice heard.

I am not suggesting that participating in demonstrations is akin to being a political martyr or a suicide bomber, but it is doing something which may have a detrimental effect on oneself for an ideological cause. My family would never understand if negative consequences were visited upon my head for a political or ideological reason. When Ba and Um gave up so much to ensure my prosperity, how can I do otherwise but ensure that their sacrifice was not in vain?

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

I'm going through changes*

The web is a wonderful place.

I am finally catching up on all my blog reading which, much like my blog writing, has dipped into near non-existence of late. Slowly, slowly however I am clawing my way back into the ether world.

I also finally got myself organised and have a feed-reader thing. So now, I have my people onto you. Or those of you I know about.

One of the blogs I enjoy but don't visit with sufficient frequency - What We Said - had an interesting post about name changes on marriage by Emily. In response, Span posted on her own site the following post.

Name changing on marriage is a no-brainer for me. Mostly because I have no intention of getting married. But also because in Vietnamese culture, women do not take their husband's name on marriage.

I was always very confused when people called my mother Mrs (my father's family name). Who were they talking about? And they were always very confused when I explained what my mother's family name was. Who was I talking about? Why was my name different to my mother's? And anyway, what difference does it make when there are only about 25 family names in Vietnamese?

Um was not the avant garde of Viet feminists, retaining her name because she held some belief that she was resisting her status as chattel in a married relationship. No, my mother is very much not a feminist. I recall her saying to me at an early age when I was fighting with my brother that I was not supposed to argue with him because he was male, older and stronger. She also told me at the same time she was asking me to desist from battling my bro that when I married I should always defer to my husband in an argument otherwise he would not remain my husband. I was, oh, I don't know how old - maybe 6 or 7. Salutary lessons for a 7 year old - how to keep the husband you don't have by subjugating yourself and your worthless opinions.

No, my mother just did what tradition and culture dictated.

Traditional Viet weddings symbolically pass the woman over to her husband's family. The groom comes to the bride's house and asks her family if he can take her. The dowry that he must bring represents a form of payment for the wife, who will become the husband's newest acquisition in his working household. Husband and wife together offer tea to all of the woman's family to thank them for looking after her up to that point in her life. Then husband and wife trundle back to the husband's family and offer tea to all of them to ask them to accept the wife into the family. It's time consuming.

Even though this ceremony passes the bride into the groom's family, the bride retains her father's name and does not take on her husband's.

If I were to marry, there would be a lot of baggage about whether to change my name. The answer, if you're curious or had not already guessed, is that I would not. I like my name. It took me a long time to become reconciled with it, so I'd like to keep it, thanks. And I am not disappearing post marriage. To not, follows Viet culture. To do so, would be to follow the mainstream of which I am now a part but which is too patriarchal a gesture for my liking. (That is not to say that Viet culture is not patriarchal; it is.) I expect that I would discuss the issue with my partner, too. Although I suspect we both already know the discussion will be brief.

Some of my acquaintances get defensive about not keeping their name on marriage around me, presumably because I am an unapologetic feminist. I bandy "feminist" about like I'm comfortable with it. Because I am. But it does not mean that I judge people for their decisions. At least, not all the time.

I am curious about why people do, or do not, change their family name. The rationale that an entire family should share the same family name for unity's sake strikes me as insupportable. I agree with Span's reasoning. I met a family who had a plethora of surnames: Mum & Dad each kept their families' names and, when the first child was born, a coin was tossed to decide which surname that child would take (Dad's as it turned out). The second child took the Mum's remaining family name, thereby carrying on her name, too. I do not know what happens if there is a third child. They were a delightful family unit.

I do not understand why the article Emily refers to says that the woman should ensure that her female children carry her family name? Why not any of the children, or half the children? How does ensuring the female children carry the woman's family name undermine the tradition? I have wondered about this myself: if my partner and I were to have a child together, whose family name would the child take? I am inclined to think the child should have my partner's - because there are fewer of his names floating about the world than mine. And if we were to have a child, that child would probably be the first of his family's next generation, whereas it would be - oh, maybe - the 30th (give or take) of my family's next generation.

And in any event, why does the decision whether or not to change one's name on marriage affect the decision regarding what name any child of the relationship should have?

I agree with Emily that choice is relevant, but more than that - thinking about the issue is what is important. I would prefer we lived an examined life, and if there is value to the individual of doing what the mainstream dictates, fine. And if there is not, then an analysis of the reasons for acting one way or another will provide the solution for an alternate path.

* that's a song. Not a reference to me. I think I'm staying the same.

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